Short-sighted Florida bill will punish foreign educational exchanges

Florida House Building 7017Sounds like a reasonable effort under parliament to protect Florida from inappropriate foreign influences. Then read the details.

The bill will punish schools and universities for doing what they do, involving students and researchers from countries around the world. The bill poses significant barriers to international cooperation by Florida schools and universities, and imposes strong restrictions on cooperation with educational institutions, especially in China, Russia, Syria, Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela.

The only way to strengthen our position and security is to engage with other political groups.

My team, the Forest Insectology Laboratory, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, has been working in China since 2013. We are informing the governments of Florida and the United States about forest pests. The USDA has been funding our work continuously for almost a decade for practical reasons. Our data is important for investigating incoming cargo and protecting the forest, timber industry and environment from pests.

Ending such bilateral cooperation would mean closing our ability to study new pests from Asia and our ability to protect Florida’s forestry. That would mean ending a credible agreement between Florida’s science community and Chinese universities. Students and scientists who have studied in China will be on our side. The study, published with a Chinese colleague, strengthened the international reputation of Florida research firms.

What do supporters of the bill want to achieve?

If this bill is passed, it will punish those who are developing allies in the target countries. It will punish those who are encouraging younger Chinese and Iranians to love and respect America. It will keep Russian students who want to learn about our values, looking through their government propaganda.

The hope that closing research exchanges with students will reduce the impact of hostile governments is outdated. The world is interconnected with the information highway. America has broken down political barriers for decades. Because the brews hidden behind it routinely go against our interests. The world is learning to speak English. Would you like to take advantage of it to teach more young people our language?

In the age of global commerce, the only way to protect our industry and the environment is to promote, not hinder, bilateral exchange of knowledge, ideas and inspiration. The proposed bill will undermine the leadership of the University of Florida in this important effort.

Jiri Hulcr is an associate professor or forest entomology at the University of Florida, Gainesville.